Behind the rainbow: How AT&T really celebrated Pride Month

During June, AT&T plastered its social media accounts with rainbows, asserted that the company "recognizes, embraces, and stands with LGBTQ+ people," and emphasized its commitment to addressing the "mental health crisis among LGBTQ+ youth." Simultaneously, according to new campaign finance filings obtained by Popular Information, AT&T quietly sent thousands in corporate PAC contributions to anti-LGBTQ politicians in Alabama that are targeting trans youth.

In April, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R) signed into law House Bill 391, legislation that banned "transgender youth from participating in school sports consistent with their gender identity." The bill was denounced by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation's most prominent LGBTQ rights organization, as compromising the "health and safety of all kids for cheap political gain."

Participation in sports can help alleviate "depression and anxiety." Sports teams provide "a chance to affirm young people’s rights to belong, feel comfortable in their bodies, and be a part of a supportive community." Therefore, "policies of exclusion," like the bill enacted by Ivey, "can exacerbate the mental health crisis already surrounding transgender youth."

In early June, AT&T signed a letter, organized by the Human Rights Campaign, opposing "bills being introduced in state houses across the country that single out LGBTQ individuals - many specifically targeting transgender youth - for exclusion or differential treatment." Days later, AT&T's corporate PAC donated $5,000 to Ivey, who is targeting LGBTQ youth with discriminatory legislation.

During Pride Month, AT&T promoted its charitable contribution to the Trevor Project, "the world’s largest organization for suicide prevention and crisis intervention for LGBTQ+ youth." But the Trevor Project condemned Ivey for signing HB 391 and said it would make its sucide prevention mission more difficult. The group noted that "transgender and nonbinary youth who report experiencing discrimination based on their gender identity had more than double the odds of attempting suicide in the past year compared to those who did not experience gender identity-based discrimination." Meanwhile, "transgender and nonbinary youth who reported having at least one gender-affirming space had 25% reduced odds of attempting suicide in the past year — the strongest association being with gender-affirming schools." In Alabama, the Trevor Project has received 2300 crisis contacts over the past year. 

HB 391 reached Ivey's desk with the support of most Republicans in the Alabama legislature. State Senators Clay Scofield (R), Daniel Roberts (R), and Gerald Allen (R) voted for HB 391 and received money from AT&T's corporate PAC in June. AT&T contributed $3,000 to Scofield and $2,000 each to Roberts and Allen. In the Alabama House, Representatives Corley Ellis (R) and David Wheeler (R) voted for HB 391 and each received $500 from AT&T's corporate PAC in June. The company did not donate to any member of the Alabama legislature that opposed the bill.

AT&T did not respond to a request for comment. 

AT&T backed Alabama officials push to ban medical care for trans youth

This year, the Alabama legislature also considered SB10, a bill to ban "gender-affirming treatments for transgender youth." The bill would make it a felony for doctors to provide "treatments like hormones and puberty blockers to individuals under the age of 19." Violations would come with a "sentence of up to 10 years in prison or a $15,000 fine." 

The bill would have also required teachers to report "a minor’s perception that his or her gender is inconsistent with his or her sex" to their parents. Teachers that failed to do so would face unspecified penalties. 

SB10 was opposed by the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Here is an excerpt from a March statement by American Academy of Pediatrics President Lee Savio Beers: 

The American Academy of Pediatrics has long been on the record in support of affirmative care for transgender children through our clinical policy. Today, we are going on the record to oppose public policies that would allow for the opposite…

Evidence-based medical care for transgender and gender diverse children is a complex issue. Pediatricians are best able to determine what care is necessary and appropriate for these children, but these bills interfere in the physician-patient-family relationship and would cause undue harm.

Research shows "transgender children who receive gender-affirming care such as puberty-delaying medication, hormones, or both when they are young have better mental health outcomes and report fewer cases of depression, self-harm, and suicide or attempted suicide."

SB10 was approved by the Alabama Senate in March with the support of Scofield, Roberts, and Allen. After it passed the Alabama Senate, the Trevor Project released a statement asserting that the "legislation will endanger young trans lives in Alabama" and "contradicts the consensus of major medical associations and the overwhelming evidence that demonstrates how affirming transgender and nonbinary youth in their identities reduces suicide risk and improves health." Nevertheless, in June, the trio of Alabama Senators who supported the bill was rewarded with a combined $7,000 from AT&T's corporate PAC.

SB10 never made it to Ivey's desk because it failed to get a vote in the Alabama House before the conclusion of the legislative session.

Despite large donations to anti-LGBTQ politicians, AT&T maintains a perfect score in the "Corporate Equality Index"

Last month, Popular Information reported that AT&T was one of the largest corporate donors to anti-LGBTQ politicians in the last two years. Since 2019, AT&T donated almost $1.1 million to anti-LGBTQ members of Congress who were rated "zero" by the HRC. The company also donated to the sponsors of anti-trans legislation in Arkansas ($12,950), Tennessee ($4,000), North Carolina ($5,000), Texas ($22,500), and Florida ($17,500).

And yet, AT&T was able to maintain a perfect score in HRC's Corporate Equality Index. The Corporate Equality Index purports to measure, among other things, a company's "public commitment to the LGBTQ community." AT&T's recent donations to the sponsors of anti-trans legislation in Alabama will not change its score. Why? HRC's methodology excludes political donations, enabling corporations to craft a pro-LGBTQ image while bankrolling politicians that are undermining LGBTQ rights.

But, according to HRC and the Trevor Project, the anti-trans legislation poses a severe threat to the health and well-being of trans youth. Therefore, it is hard to justify calculating the Corporate Equality Index without considering corporate donations to the politicians advancing these bills.